Social entrepreneurship: make money while doing some good

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 April, 2014, 2:12pm
UPDATED : Monday, 30 June, 2014, 4:12pm

Make money while doing some good. That’s the boiled down definition of social entrepreneurship. Members of this movement identify and solve persistent social problems on a grand scale. Similar to business entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs discover open territory and bring innovative ideas. They differ from not-for-profits because work is aimed at sweeping, long-term change rather than smaller, immediate impact.

Some particular traits set these endeavours and entrepreneurs apart. Most social entrepreneurs are very passionate about their cause, which fuels the long hours and distinct challenges. They step in where government or business has fallen short, find what is not working, and change the system. They then spread the solution and use large-scale persuasion to move entire communities in new directions. Collaboration is unique to this new industry; because the efforts are often pro-global, social entrepreneurs have less competition to guard against and are able to partner and gather crucial resources, strategies, and connections.

Early social entrepreneurs include: Vinoba Bhave (founder of the Land Gift Movement, which redistributed 7,000,000 acres to aid India's poor), Dr. Maria Montessori (developed the Montessori method of primary education), and Florence Nightingale (established the first school for nurses and worked to improve UK hospital conditions). More currently, Tom’s Shoes is a privately held for-profit company that sells shoes but also aims to supply shoes to impoverished children around the world. Frogtek sells inexpensive software to shops in Mexico, Colombia, and Spain, allowing them to process credit cards and manage store inventory on cell phones. Frogtek sells data about its users to food companies and banks to fund the venture. Green Dot used cornstarch to develop a biodegradable soft plastic, offering a competitively priced replacement for petroleum-based plastics. Its first product: an iPhone case.

Unfortunately, it’s harder to get seed money for social entrepreneurs when the profit margin will likely be small and dividends are often paid in positive feelings and societal improvement. However, there are growing options. Return on Change is an online equity platform whose business model is to help socially conscious endeavours raise capital. Also, some organisations offer fellowship grants to social entrepreneurs with a purpose: Echoing Green, Acumen Fund, Ashoka, Skoll, BALLE, and Gates Foundation. Platforms like IndieGoGo, Kickstarter, and RocketHub enable individuals and the public to fund various projects with donations of all sizes.

The role of a social entrepreneur is to identify a part of society that‘s stuck and figure out how to fix it. They find what is not working and change the larger system with clear and ethical strategies that entice citizens to engage, lead, and sustain the effort. Bill Drayton, CEO, chair and founder of Ashoka states it plainly, "Social entrepreneurs are not content just to give a fish or teach how to fish. They will not rest until they have revolutionised the fishing industry."



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